On a day of football where no teams had to do a significant amount of travelling, home advantage still seemed to make all the difference. Two London derbies and the Merseyside derby saw 3 of the top 5 teams pick up maximum points to keep the pressure on leaders Manchester City.
Starting with what was certainly the least exciting of the 3 games, Chelsea hosted Fulham and sealed a comfortable 2-0 win. The game was everything we expected really. The home side always looked sound and as if they were going to win without being prolific whilst Fulham seemed more secure but never looked like they could truly challenge. It was always going to be a difficult game for the away side only made harder by the absence of key man Andre Schurrle. Yet, for a team who currently sit bottom of the league, Fulham play some impressive football showing glimpses of that in today’s game. Despite failing to score today, last weeks result showed they’re more than capable of scoring goals suggesting their key issue is at the back. Ranieri has attempted to rectify this by sticking with the same back four in his first two games in an attempt to develop greater chemistry between them. As for Chelsea, today’s game seemed to suggest their main problem is at the other end of the pitch. They may have scored two goals but they both came from players who often don’t make the starting lineup, Pedro and Loftus-Cheek. You have to wonder where much needed goals are going to come from; Giroud failed to score today whilst Morata missed what was virtually and open goal after coming off the bench. None of their midfielders are prolific scorers either leaving the blues desperate for a ‘Lampard-esque’ central midfielder and a clinical striker.
The other London derby was in the north of the city between fierce rivals Arsenal and Tottenham. The Gunners made a flying start to the game but found themselves 1-2 down at half time. Two changes at the break prompted an Arsenal comeback with the final score being 4-2 to the home side who were dominant for much of the game. Torreira starred on this fiery occasion which, somewhat unsurprisingly, saw a red card shown to Jan Vertonghen late on. The absence of Mesut Ozil may have surprised a few prior to the game but it certainly didn’t hinder Arsenal in any way. If you’re looking for a player with fire in his belly, someone who is happy to give and take a few hits in a bad tempered local derby, Ozil probably wouldn’t be your first choice. Given Arsenal’s impressive performance today and victory away to Bournemouth last week without him, questions have to be asked as to where the German fits into this rejuvenated Arsenal side. The Gunners are finally looking like a team of determination and fight rather than the one of fragility that we became so used to when Wenger was in charge. Ozil isn’t a player who will easily buy into this style and may be better off playing his football elsewhere.
The final derby clash was that of Liverpool against Everton. Both the Merseyside clubs have had strong seasons up to this point with them both in contention to qualify for European football. However, it’s fairly safe to say the home side were strong favourites prior to this highly anticipated match. A draw would have been a fair result and that looked to be the outcome right up to the 96th minute. Even Van Dijk had lost all hope of his team grabbing a late winner when turned away after slicing a volley from the edge of the box. Unbelievably, the ball ballooned towards the goal and rather than letting it hit the roof of his net, Pickford attempted to catch the ball. The Everton keeper made a complete mess of it as he tipped the ball onto the crossbar, only for it to drop nicely to the forgotten man Divock Origi, to tap home. All in all, it’s a game Pickford will be wanting to forget. Despite making a few decent saves, Pickford never looked completely comfortable misplacing a number of kicks before eventually costing his side the match. It may not have been a win which was totally deserved but Liverpool fans won’t care as their side earn the bragging rights and a crucial 3 points. The reds continue to pile the pressure onto Man City in the race for the title.
Often, all the build up and anticipation that comes with local derbies can lead to an anti-climax of cagey, uneventful matches with the managers being too fearful of losing. That certainly wasn’t the case for any of the games we saw today. Spectators were treated to plenty of goals, conflict and late drama. Fans of the winning sides won’t have wanted the day to end whilst the losers will be trying to move on as soon as possible, desperate to take revenge in the next clash derby day clash.